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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

In Formula 1 it’s been a Red Bull season

Sergio Peréz, left, and Max Verstappen have led Red Bull to the first five wins of the season.

By Phillip Horton

Formula 1 has become the Red Bull roadshow.

It has won all five Grands Prix this season, four of them one-two finishes, and has amassed 224 points from a possible 235.

“That race pace advantage, I think, is quite big at the moment,” said reigning champion Max Verstappen of Red Bull, after winning the Miami Grand Prix despite starting ninth.

Red Bull has been ahead of the next-best team by at least 20 seconds at four of the races — at the other, in Australia, the race finished behind the safety car, which bunched the field.

Red Bull’s car, designated the RB19, is an evolution of its title-winning RB18, which had early-season weight and understeering issues that were fixed.

“It’s the best start we’ve had,” said Christian Horner, Red Bull’s team principal. “We feel we’ve made a good step from RB18 into RB19, the kind of step you would expect.”

Verstappen, seeking a third successive title, has a 14-point lead over his teammate Sergio Pérez. He has two wins to Verstappen’s three.

Verstappen is the overwhelming favorite for the championship, and Pérez is realistically his only competition. Last season, Verstappen won 15 races, Pérez two. Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin, in third place, is 44 points behind Verstappen.

Alonso said in Miami that “our main focus, to be honest, is just looking behind and trying to keep Mercedes and Ferrari in the Constructors’ championship under control.”

That leaves just two for the title, and Horner is confident there will be no discord between his drivers.

“I think that it’s a luxury problem, first of all,” Horner said on having two title-contending drivers. “I think any team principal in the pit lane would hope to have that issue.

“The key thing is to ensure that paranoia doesn’t creep in, and that both drivers are treated equally. You go to pains to provide equality, to the point of who drives out the garage first each weekend, you know, it alternates. It even alternates in the debrief who talks first.”

At the last race in Miami, the pair ran different tire strategies, leading to an on-track battle in which Verstappen prevailed.

“We know we are free to race,” Verstappen said. “Of course, most importantly, is that we don’t touch.”

Pérez said they had to put the team ahead of themselves.

“We are just two drivers, but there’s so many people working back home and working really hard, we have to show respect,” he said.

Red Bull’s advantage has been aided by its expected rivals, Mercedes and Ferrari, faltering. “I think it’s surprised us that the others have perhaps underdelivered compared to where they were last year,” Horner said.

Mercedes, which won eight consecutive Constructors’ titles from 2014 through 2021, slumped to third in 2022. Its W13 was derailed by chronic porpoising, when the car bounces. Once that was remedied, Mercedes began to extract better performance. That prompted the team to retain its design concept when developing its next car, the W14. As early as the first race in Bahrain, however, Mercedes realized the car did not perform well when pushed to its maximum.

Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, said Bahrain was one of Mercedes’ “worst days in racing,” adding that the W14 “lacked pace front, right and center” after it was almost one second per lap slower than Red Bull. In Miami, Wolff described the W14 as “poisonous” given its inconsistency.

The team then brought back its former technical director, James Allison, replacing Mike Elliott, who became chief technical officer.

Mercedes is third in the championship, 128 points behind Red Bull, with one finish on the podium.

Ferrari has also had a sobering season. It hired a new team boss, recruiting Frédéric Vasseur from Alfa Romeo Racing, but Ferrari’s car, the SF-23, whose design predated Vasseur’s appointment, has been insipid, and the team is in fourth.

Ferrari has suffered from high tire degradation, inconsistency with tire usage and wind sensitivity. Its reliability has also been flawed, with engine failures forcing its driver Charles Leclerc to retire in Bahrain, which, under FIA rules, penalized his starting position in Saudi Arabia. Leclerc, a distant runner-up to Verstappen in 2022, is seventh in points, 85 behind Verstappen.

“What we are lacking is consistency on the car,” Leclerc said. “It’s not even from corner to corner, it’s just in the same corner I can have a huge oversteer balance and then a huge understeer balance. This is just very difficult as a driver to gain the confidence.”

Ferrari and Mercedes have upgraded their cars, but they are still uncertain of the exact solution.

“We need to manage our own expectations,” Wolff said. “I have never in my 15 years in Formula 1 seen a silver bullet being introduced, where suddenly you unlock half a second of performance.”

Red Bull will not be standing still, either, and it continues to adjust its car.

No team has won every Grand Prix in a season, but McLaren almost did in 1988, winning 15 of that season’s 16 races, a 94% winning percentage.

Red Bull is, of course, at 100%, but there are many races left until the season ends in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in November.

“Big gains could come quickly. We’ve got a great car, a great team, two great drivers,” Horner said, pausing. “You know, there’s still a long way to go.”

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